NBC Compares GOP Health-care Collapse to Basketball
You might say Capitol Hill is like sports, an ideological faceoff between politicians on either side of the aisle. NBC’s coverage of the GOP’s health care failure on March 24 took the comparison a step further.
NBC’s Hallie Jackson described the day’s events while an on-screen graphic of a basketball Jumbo-Tron changed along with her words.
“By midday, the scoreboard looked grim. Thirty four Republicans opposing or leaning against the bill, twelve more than the GOP could afford to lose,” Jackson said.
“At 12:30, the huddle: House Speaker Paul Ryan meeting with President Trump at the White House, with a subdued Sean Spicer, an hour later, on preemptive defense.”
“The president and the team here have left everything on the field,” said Spicer at the White House press briefing.
“By 4 p.m., game over,” Jackson concluded.
It’s not the first time NBC has been bold with graphics. On March 6 the network covered Trump’s explosive wire-tapping claim.
“It would be a huge scandal if it happened,” Jackson reported.
“But there’s no evidence it did, just like the president’s claim millions of people voted illegally,” Jackson reported.
“Just like his past questions about where President Obama was really born and just like his insinuation Ted Cruz’s father was involved with John F. Kennedy’s assassination.”
The biggest impressions left with viewers are typically those brought on visually, in this case with graphics. With “‘Where Obama was REALLY born’” emphasized on screen, the graphic contradicts Jackson’s meaning: we know he was born in the United States.
The collapse of the Republican health care plan was a major story, affecting viewers and the future of the Trump administration.
Was this story too important to be compared to a basketball game? Do graphics like the ones NBC uses distract from the stories themselves?
Former CNN anchor and correspondent Candy Crowley said graphics like these are often used simply due to a lack of other good video.
“I grant you that the graphics used in the wiretap story are not the best, requiring the viewer to listen closely because at times they do seem to fight rather than tell the story,” she said. “But go back and try to figure out what moving video you could have used instead.”
Linda Winslow, the former executive producer of PBS NewsHour, agrees that the graphics on screen in the wiretapping story are contradictory.
“The words that are highlighted by graphics are all in the copy, but by pulling them out of context the graphics producer has emphasized the very points the reporter is saying were not true, and an inattentive listener might get the impression they ARE true,” Winslow said.
But as for the health care story’s sports analogy, both Winslow and Crowley agree that it’s acceptable.
“It’s a way to tell a story to an audience, not all of which is enthralled with politics,” Crowley said. “My main complaint about this piece isn’t that the story is ‘too important to be compared to a basketball game.’ My main complaint is that sports analogies are clichés.”
At the top of the show before Jackson’s story, Lester Holt explained the health care bill’s failure and both House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump’s reactions to it.
“Her story didn’t have to carry the full weight of reporting the big story; she was simply presenting a timeline of how a very dramatic day unfolded,” Winslow said. “In this case, I thought the use of the graphics reinforced her attempt to explain who the key players were and how they interacted. The basketball analogy did not fight the words she was reporting.”
More from the pros:
- “[Graphics] are also a way to liven up a visually boring story and most DC-based policy stories, as important as they may be, do not have compelling pictures to carry the piece. Had the reporter used wallpaper (more video of the floor of The House or congressmen walking in and out of doors) the story would have been a yawner. Used well, graphics can punch up and clarify a story. Used poorly, they definitely distract because the viewer has to sit there trying to figure out what the heck the graphic means while the reporter moves on.”
- “They can also help make a story more visually interesting, especially if there aren’t many pictures to cover a narrative track. The latter use of graphics is the one that is most problematic, because the graphics have to reinforce the points in the audio track that they are covering. Often, these graphics are created back in the production center after the track has been delivered, and the person who wrote the narration may not even be party to graphic decisions made to cover it; that’s why you sometimes see graphics that are either very distracting or just flat-out wrong.”